Given that the current Pope and I are decidely on different sides of several theological issues, you might be surprised to konw that I am an admirer of this Pope--a critical admirer, but an admirer nonetheless. I hhighly recommended on this blog his Jesus of Navareth. I have therefore been following his visit to the United States with great interest. Be sure to check out my posts on the Lead today and tomorrow for some of my posts on that vist.
Yesterday, David Gibson had some very intersting observations about the Pope:
Call Pope Benedict XVI a "cultural Catholic" and you're likely to get puzzled looks if not angry rejoinders. Cultural Catholics rank right down there with "cafeteria Catholics" in the opinion of those who argue that only a deep experience of Christian faith and a tight embrace of church teachings can make one authentically Catholic.
To a great extent that would also be the perspective of Benedict, whose Augustinian view of man's fallen state and need for grace, discovered in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, is almost Lutheran in its theology and evangelical in its expression. But Benedict is also, of course, a thoroughgoing Catholic, by birth and upbringing. And he recognizes that Catholicism is a culture as well as a religion, and that a strong cultural identity can cultivate faith in the present generation and pass it along to the next, as it has for centuries. ("Never!" Joseph Ratzinger once exclaimed to an interviewer who asked if he had ever thought of converting to Protestantism. The man who was to become Pope Benedict XVI had been so infused by "the Baroque atmosphere" of his native Bavaria, he said, that "from a purely psychological point of view I have never been attracted to it.")
. . .
In the Christian ideal, God has no grandchildren; faith must be ever new. But then how does the church encourage Catholicism as a culture while keeping the faith fresh and alive? It is an age-old question, the search for a link between the collective sense of a people and the requirement of individual sanctification. Answers have ranged from Kierkegaard's attack on Christendom to H. Richard Niebuhr's seminal work, "Christ and Culture."
For his part, Benedict seems to embrace a kind of "post-Constantinian" strategy that attempts the tricky two-step of, as the pope said, "cultivating a Catholic identity which is based not so much on externals as on a way of thinking and acting grounded in the Gospel and enriched by the Church's living tradition." Benedict's approach is so novel -- as is the ever-changing world that the age-old church now inhabits -- that it's hard to know what to call it. Vatican expert John Allen has tried out labels like "evangelical Catholicism" or "affirmative orthodoxy." Yet neither seems to encompass Benedict's goal of making an Old World religion pulse with the vitality of a New World spirituality.
Perhaps it cannot happen, or perhaps Catholic identity will emerge in some unexpected form. Maybe even papal visits and huge public liturgies like Thursday's Mass at Nationals Stadium in Washington -- events that Cardinal Ratzinger viewed with some suspicion only a few years ago -- are an important way of encouraging a kind of Catholic culture. No researcher has yet been able to quantify the impact of these papal spectaculars. But the outpouring of pride and the experience of faith they create, in ancient liturgies and modern settings, may plant seeds whose fruit we will see in future years.